China Warns Trump to Tread Carefully in Dealing With the South China Sea Dispute
China has warned US President Donald Trump to "speak and act cautiously" after the White House said that it would take action to prevent China's attempts to "take over" the South China Sea.
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At a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying urged the Trump administration to tread carefully "to avoid harming the peace and stability of the South China Sea."
Hua was responding to comments made on Monday by Sean Spicer, the White House secretary, in which he vowed that the United States would protect its interests in the resource-rich South China Sea trade route.
About $4.5 trillion worth of trade passes through the South China Sea annually. Trump has in the past hinted that it fully intends to Challenge China's claim of ownership over the strategic waterway
Spicer's comments came less than two weeks after Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, set off a bitter war of words between the two countries by comparing China's artificial island building on reefs in the South China Sea to Russia's annexation of Crimea.
During his confirmation hearing, Tillerson said that the US government needs to send China a clear signal that it has to stop building artificial islands in the South China Sea, and that its access to such territories would be curtailed.
At his first question and answer presser on Monday, Spicer once again hinted that the Trump administration was ready to confront China over the South China Sea issue.
"It's a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not of China proper, then yeah, we're going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country," Spicer told the media.
Spicer refused to disclose how the Trump administration intends to enforce such steps.
Scholars, who have been advising Trump on his China policy are in favor of a more muscular military approach, primarily through strengthening US naval presence in the region.
China is claiming sovereignty over most of the South China Sea region. In recent years, Beijing has stepped up a campaign to cement its control over the area which is also jointly contested by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
Last month, a US thinktank reported that China had deployed weapons, including anti-aircraft missile systems, to its artificial islands in the contested maritime territory.